Your Workplace Rights: Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The US Department of labor defines workplace violence as “any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at a work site.”

Sexual harassment, defined by the EEOC as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” is a form of workplace violence as well as a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

One in 4 women and one in 10 men, according to ABC News, has experienced workplace sexual harassment.

The Fair Employment Protection Act, which amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provides strong protection to both men and women from all workplace harassment, including sexual harassment.

Despite protections provided by both The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Employment Protection Act, sexual harassment is still widespread across the United States.

The most extreme form of sexual harassment at work is sexual assault and rape. According to http://www.workplacesrespond.org, 91% of the victims are female; in 80% of all rapes, the victim knows the perpetrator; 8% of rapes occur in the workplace.

Sara’s Story of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Every time Charlie called, he greeted Sara with “Well, hello Sugar!” or “Hi there, Sweetie Pie!” After the first phone call, she responded very nicely and humorously to Charlie.

“Charlie, I really like you, I do. And I’d like you even more if you addressed me by my gorgeous name, okay?” to which Charlie responded, “C’mon, Sweetie, I’m just bein’ nice! Don’t you want me to be nice?”

Charlie’s familiarity made her uncomfortable and felt demeaning to Sara, so she told her boss that she didn’t like the way Charlie talked to her and asked her boss to speak to Charlie. Her boss responded, “He’s an important client, and he’s really harmless. He doesn’t mean anything by it. Can’t we just appease him, please? Would you do that for me?”

So Sara put up with Charlie. He was a 60-year-old man. What harm could he do?

Quite a bit, it would turn out.

One day, Sara overheard him and her boss talking in her boss’s office.

“That little assistant of yours’s got a hot little [expletive]! Man, I wouldn’t mind takin’ a roll in the sheets with some of that!”

Sara complained to her boss again.

“I know, I know. That was a little over the top,” her boss laughed. “Sorry you had to hear that. But he really is harmless. He’s just an old man trying to feel like a 20-year-old. I’ll say something to him, but I wish you would just blow it off. That’s just Charlie. He really doesn’t mean anything by it.”

It was clear to Sara that her boss did not understand her feelings and that he didn’t see Charlie’s behavior as inappropriate.

Out of fear of losing him as a client and jeopardizing her job, Sara bit her tongue and put up with Charlie. The longer she put up with him, however, the more his inappropriate behavior escalated.

At the company Christmas party, Charlie got drunk and, as Sara was coming out of the restroom, he grabbed Sara’s backside, pushed her against a wall and forced her to kiss him. She struggled to break away from him and ran out the door to her car.

Sara felt violated and humiliated. Charlie, however, saw things very differently.

Shortly after the holidays, Sara’s boss asked her to drop a proposal off at Charlie’s office on her way home from work. Sara tried to find an excuse not to go, but her boss insisted, so Sara went.

When she got to Charlie’s office, his secretary and a male assistant were there, which made Sara feel a bit more at ease, but as soon as Charlie brought Sara into his office, he dismissed his secretary and assistant and closed the office door behind him and Sara.

Sara politely but firmly refused his invitation to sit down. “I really need to get home,” she said. “My son has a soccer game this evening.” She put the proposal on his desk, turned, and quickly walked to the door. Just as she began to open it, Charlie was behind her and pushed the door closed.

“Look, I’m really sorry about the party. I was drunk. You know how it is.” He smiled and shrugged, moving in front of her, crossing his arms over his chest, and leaning against the closed door, which forced Sara to back up farther away from the door.

“I really need to go,” Sara said, alarmed and shaking now.

“Well, have a seat, honey! Just for a minute. Show me this proposal you brought over.” he clasped her arm and pulled her toward the couch to the left of his desk. As Sara struggled to pull away from him, he pulled her harder toward the couch.

“Let go of me! I’ll report you! LET ME GO!” She cried.

“C’mon, honey. I know you like me. You said so. You made out with me at the Christmas party! You know you want this, so stop acting all pure and innocent.”

Charlie shoved Sara down on the sofa and raped her.

 

What Should You Do If You Face Sexual Harassment at Work?

  • Find out specifically what your company’s policy regarding sexual harassment is and follow it.
  • Take detailed notes regarding the harassment. Include specifics: times and places incidents took place, what was said and done, and who witnessed the incidents.
  • Put your complaint in writing.
  • Report the incident to your supervisor and / or to human resources quickly.
  • If you feel comfortable addressing the offender, speak to him or her. Tell him or her specifically what behaviors bother you and ask him or her to stop.
  • File a complaint with EEOC. According to the American Association of University Women, you have only 180 days from the date of the date of the incident to file this complaint. EEOC notifies your employer that you have filed a charge and begins an investigation.

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Sexual Harassment Resources:

Feminist Majority Foundation – Sexual Harassment Resources

Association of Women for Action and Research – Workplace Sexual Harassment

Workplace Fairness – Sexual Harassment Legal Rights

R.A.I.N.N. – Sexual Harassment

 

Further Reading: